Thursday, January 8, 2009

Snakes on a Bus

About two years ago, a movie titled Snakes on a Plane starring the great actor, Samuel L. Jackson, appeared in movie theaters. It was an apparent hit with the younger crowd (to me, that’s anyone under 50), but although it’s been on HBO or Showtime several occasions since, I haven’t bothered to watch it. Maybe I will someday after the paint dries.

Although I haven’t seen the movie, I can’t imagine it being nearly as thrilling or exciting as a similar incident which co-starred a good-sized member of the reptile family when I was a student at Elnora High.

It all started with the morning bus ride to school on a sunny and cold, but not frigid, winter day. I was one of the first students on the bus each morning, and as we picked up the other kids, all wore the requisite outer garments appropriate to the season. However, as a classmate of mine (who shall remain nameless in the interest of continuing confidentiality) climbed the steps to the bus, I noticed that he was clad in a long-sleeved shirt, but was carrying his coat folded up and clutched tightly in front of him, not unlike a Wall Street banker trying to conceal a briefcase full of embezzled cash.

Some of us asked if he was cold, but he dodged the question with the efficiency of a point guard evading a defender just before hitting the game winning jump shot. As we arrived at school and headed to the Study Hall to grab our books and supplies from our desks, I completely forgot the bus scenario and prepared myself for the business of getting ready to start the school day.

Mrs. Humbaugh, the school’s English teacher, was at her normal early morning location, seated at a small table at the south end of the Study Hall. She had a supply of tickets piled on her table and a small money box in which to collect the quarters from the students who wanted to purchase lunch in the school cafeteria.

We had 15 minutes to get our stuff together, buy the last minute lunch tickets, and get ourselves to class. Most of the other kids in grades 7 – 12 were similarly occupied, except for a small group of students clustered around a desk a couple rows to my left and a bit more toward the front of the large room. About the time I looked in their direction, the desk lid was raised, and with the accuracy of an Australian boomerang, a large snake whirled overhead from the group of students straight toward Mrs. Humbaugh. With a shriek that would have made Alfred Hitchcock proud, Mrs. Humbaugh leaped from her seat, knocking over her small table, with coins and cash flying in all directions. From my vantage point, it appeared as if the snake grazed or, at the very least, just missed Mrs. Humbaugh in its spinning flight across the auditorium.

As things quieted down, a magnanimous young man (who just happened to be the same student with the suspicious folded coat on that early morning bus ride) went over and offered his assistance to rid the Study Hall of the offending reptile. The last we saw, the student and the snake were both headed down the hallway and out the door, where the legless creature was presumably allowed to slither to the freedom of its natural habitat.

Days later, another blood-curdling scream emanated from the 2nd floor English room. It seems that when Mrs. Humbaugh reached into her coat pocket near the end of the school day, somehow a tiny garter snake had taken up residence in the same location as her car keys. To my knowledge, nobody was ever punished for either incident.
As Harrison Ford so aptly complained in Raiders of the Lost Ark, “Snakes! Why does it have to be snakes?” I’m sure Mrs. Humbaugh felt the same way.

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